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Essential Politics: Five questions to kick off this year

Essential Politics: Five questions to kick off this year
Essential Politics (LAT)

It's an election year. That means high drama, political and policy battles and renewed attention on you, the voters.

The L.A. Times political team will be there to help as you sort through the noise and make decisions. To get you started, here are some political questions we're pondering.

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Will President Trump come to California anytime soon?

Trump is about to become the first president since Dwight D. Eisenhower 64 years ago to skip a visit to the Golden State during his first calendar year in office. And he doesn't appear to have any plans to take Air Force One to the country's most populous and economically powerful state before he marks his first full year in office Jan. 20.

Which Trump will come to the negotiating table on immigration?

We've seen the president have both a warm embrace of the plight of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and a staunch "Build the wall!" line of rhetoric for his political base. Democrats believe they can persuade him to help the so-called Dreamers, but it depends on which stance he wants to take in 2018.

What will Mitch McConnell focus on?

Congress returns to Washington with a heftier-than-usual agenda of unfinished business. Lawmakers must quickly tackle spending matters and what to do about the Dream Act. With a slimmer Republican majority in place in the Senate this week, don't expect it to be a smooth process for the GOP leader.

How will California tangle with the federal government this year?

2017 brought a year of resistance and political energy as the new administration settled in. After one year of Trump, what do Gov. Jerry Brown and the majority Democrats in the Legislature have in mind?

Are there other lawmakers to fall in sexual misconduct probes?

Two California Democrats have quit in recent weeks after accusations of harassment, along with several members of Congress. With politicians returning to work this week in Sacramento and Washington, how many more will become the subjects of investigation? The #metoo movement affected this state more than any other. The Times pulled together a list of the accused across industries, finding a powerful person was accused of misconduct at a rate of nearly once every 20 hours since some of Hollywood's top actresses stepped forward with allegations about Harvey Weinstein.

WHAT'S AHEAD IN SACRAMENTO

As lawmakers return to California's capital Wednesday, there will no doubt be a new vibe given the sexual harassment investigations that started while they were out of session. The Legislature also will be missing three assemblymen.

Policy battles will take new forms, as legislators consider the fall elections. Our team put together a quick look at the biggest to come.

Between bracing for Obamacare repeal and skirmishing over single-payer, 2017 was a busy year for healthcare in California politics. That won't let up in 2018, reports Melanie Mason, as a potential battle over government programs such as Medicaid could have major implications for the state budget. And the rift in the Democratic party over single-payer healthcare will remain, with backers of sweeping overhaul pressing ahead while legislators seek to offer alternatives to calm the progressive base.

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Jazmine Ulloa explains how California lawmakers could step in to protect the online privacy of consumers in 2018.

Coming in 2018 are major debates on rent control and the future of Proposition 13's property tax restrictions, Liam Dillon writes in his preview of big housing issues to watch this year.

Rent control is first on the docket with a legislative committee hearing on Jan. 11 for a bill that would allow cities and counties to expand their rent control policies. Among potential Proposition 13 ballot measures that could be on the 2018 ballot is one sponsored by the California Assn. of Realtors that would allow those 55 and older to take part of their property tax breaks with them if they buy a new home.

Dillon also co-hosts Gimme Shelter, a podcast on the California housing affordability crisis, which publishes every two weeks. The latest episode has predictions for the year ahead.

WHAT'S AHEAD FOR VOTERS

Now's the time for the races that matter most to start to kick into gear.

Candidates running for governor have spent months and even years laying the groundwork for their campaigns — raising money, securing endorsements and courting party activists. But most of their efforts have been largely out of the view of voters. That will change in 2018, starting with major fundraising disclosures in January, followed by party endorsement fights, and then a sprint to the June primary, Seema Mehta reports.

Seeking to avoid disunity, the California Democratic Party chairman has asked statewide candidates not to seek the party endorsement at the group's spring convention. Some Democrats aren't happy about it, Mehta reports.

Meantime, the lack of prominent GOP candidates on statewide ballots has some Republicans sweating turnout for the congressional midterms. Patrick McGreevy explains how efforts to repeal the new gas tax and vehicle fees might help.

The path to Democrats taking back the House, or not, goes through California. Sarah Wire has the story on the key trends we're going to be keeping an eye on as the midterms approach.

As David Lauter observes, almost all signs point toward big Democratic gains, largely driven by Trump's widespread unpopularity. And Mark Barabak has a let's-get-real checklist on the Democrats' chances at returning Nancy Pelosi to the speakership.

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A reminder you can keep up with these races in the moment via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics.

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

As the death toll in five days of anti-government protests in Iran climbed, Trump cheered protesters on. Here's why that could backfire.

Pakistan lashed out after Trump accused its leaders of "lies & deceit" and suggested the United States would withdraw financial assistance to the nuclear-armed nation it once saw as a key ally against terrorism.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the courts will take a closer look at how to prevent sexual harassment of clerks.

Trump falsely claimed he's signed more bills than any other president, and he tweeted that his approval rating is the same as Obama's. It's not.

Get the latest about what's happening in the nation's capital on Essential Washington.

AS LEGAL AS IT CAN BE

The new year also came with some monumental change in California: For the first time, growing, buying, selling and smoking weed is fully legal.

Well, sort of.

Marijuana is still classified as an illegal drug at the federal level. But thanks to the overwhelming Proposition 64 vote in 2016, Golden State pot shops opened their doors, hired new staff to help with the flood of customers and even had gimmicks to reward devoted cannabis fans who arrived bright and early New Year's Day to mark the occasion.

Our teams are covering the new era from multiple angles.

And despite the hoopla, there actually are a whole bunch of places where it's not actually allowed.

BOTH SIDES SEE TAX VOTE AS A GIFT

Democrats in the California Senate are planning to write legislation to lessen the effects of the elimination of popular tax breaks in the GOP's overhaul of the federal tax system.

Sarah Wire and Christine Mai-Duc report that with the tax bill vote behind them, vulnerable California congressional Republicans now have potentially more to worry about heading into the 2018 midterms as Democratic activists try to hammer them on the issue.

George Skelton looked at the issue being a winner for the Democrats in the midterms — maybe.

POLITICAL ROAD MAP: LAWMAKERS MAKING THE GRADE

When California's state legislators return to Sacramento on Wednesday, they will no doubt be eager to begin mapping out a legislative agenda that they think voters will like come election day in the fall. They'll also no doubt be talking about the grades they received for their work in 2017.

In his Political Road Map column, John Myers writes that these are grades given by powerful interest groups — some of the only information voters have when it comes to understanding what a member of the state Senate or Assembly has been doing all year long.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

-- As we do each year, our team gathered California's new laws in one place, so you can see how they affect everything from your commute and the workplace to what you talk about around the water cooler.

-- Another state lawmaker has resigned: Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas stepped down, blaming health issues for his departure before the end of the two-year session in August.

-- Meet Preet Didbal of Yuba City, the first known Sikh woman in the nation to serve as a city mayor.

-- A state Assembly member wants to require sexual harassment training in Hollywood and health standards for fashion models to combat eating disorders.

-- New polling in the top 2018 statewide contests — the gubernatorial and Senate races — points to Democrat-on-Democrat battles in the general election.

-- Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who took a pass on seeking statewide office, finally admitted that he is considering running for president in 2020.

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-- A local Indivisible activist group has endorsed one of Rep. Duncan Hunter's challengers.

-- Emily's List has made its pick in another contested GOP-held seat, endorsing former Clinton advisor Sara Jacobs, who is running against Rep. Darrell Issa.

-- Six things you probably didn't know about the Californians in Congress.

-- San Francisco's next mayor will be a political star in California. Who will it be?

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

You can keep up with breaking news on our politics page throughout the day for the latest and greatest. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

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